Painting the Town Stories
Mural Revival Around Tampa Bay
Meet 3 Tampa Bay Artists
A Pioneer in the Mural World, story below
By Daphne Taylor Street
Special to Live Local! magazine
On a recent afternoon, I walked along the St. Petersburg Yacht Club yacht basin, which is where my father, St. Petersburg artist Thomas H. Street (Thom), passed away in 1999. I hadn’t been to that location since he passed. I had been near it, possibly walked past it from a distance, but on this day it was my destination, and I sat, and I thought about him.
The biographical part of Thom’s life is somewhat impressive. He was born and raised in Philadelphia and he descended from a long line of professional artists, including the renowned Early American portrait artist Robert Street, who has works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the White House collections. My father’s father, Thomas A. Street, earned an honorary Ph.D. from Oxford University in art restoration for his body of work in oil painting restoration, and there were also many professional artists lining the in-between space of the family tree.
It seems that being an artist was in Thom’s DNA, and he knew it. He studied at the Fleisher Art Memorial school of art and apprenticed under his father to learn restoration techniques. From an early age he was a professional artist, earning money to draw, paint, illustrate and design.
In the early 1970s Thom moved to St. Petersburg, and that is where his career as an artist took flight. He was regularly commissioned by interior designers and affluent business and homeowners to create works of art for them, usually in the form of murals. In 1975, Thomas received international attention for his commissioned portrait of the newly crowned King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
Among the most popular of Thom’s existing murals are in the lobby in the Bayfront Tower condominium on Beach Drive with Florida wetlands and waterfowl adorning the walls and another inside the St. Petersburg Pier depicting various incarnations of the Pier throughout St. Pete’s history.
Thom Street was not only known as an artist, however. He was also the life of the party—the guy at the top of all the invitation lists, quick with a witty comment or a riveting tale and always ready to croon with the band or perform an improv act as smooth as a Broadway pro.
But the party had to come to an end. His fun-loving lifestyle eventually caught up with him, and in 1999 Thom suffered a couple of small strokes that left him unable to paint. Soon after, he took his own life. He was in his 70s and many would say that his life was too short, but I don’t think Thom would agree. He lived a full life and experienced many things most people only dream about, and some of those dreams live on the walls of private homes and businesses to this day.
I love seeing the revitalization of murals throughout downtown St. Petersburg now — most created by young up-and-coming artists, helping to give this town a fresh look and celebrate the strong commitment we have to the arts in our community. Some have called my father a pioneer in the mural movement in the city. He’d like that.
St. Petersburg, I thank you for your art.
Daphne Taylor Street, a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, can be reached through her website, StreetMedia.info.